With artwork, Philadelphia muralist brings support for immigrant families to Harrisburg

A large, vibrant mural depicting the eyes of a woman and her son has been temporarily installed on the verticals of the Pennsylvania Capitol building’s west-facing steps.

Prominently visible from State Street in Harrisburg, it is one of several installations recently erected by Philadelphia-based artist Michelle Angela Ortiz and completed just prior to Tuesday’s election.

This collection of public works is the second iteration of Ortiz’s project, “Familias Separadas,” which calls attention to the plight of immigrant families detained at Berks County Residential Center.

“The goal of this project is to amplify the stories of the families affected by detention and deportation in ways that people can connect with, so that they can empathize with the families and then channel that energy into action,” Ortiz said in a release.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor
Philadelphia-based artist Michelle Angela Ortiz recently created a collection of public art in Harrisburg called “Familias Separadas” to inspire support and action for immigrant families who are or have been detained. (Dani Fresh for WHYY)

The project includes the 88-foot vinyl applique on the Capitol’s steps and a second, permanent mural painted on a wall in Harrisburg’s Allison Hill neighborhood with the help of community youth and in partnership with Movement of Immigrant Leaders in Pennsylvania,  Brethren Community Ministries, and the Latino Hispanic American Community Center.

Artwork also appears on three billboards with prominent visibility for commuters coming in and out of Harrisburg and three bus shelter displays located just outside of the Capitol campus.

The displays combine quotes from interviews conducted by Ortiz, imagery and illustration of the mothers and children detained at the Berks facility.

On Saturday, the Shut Down Berks Coalition and Ortiz invited people to the Capitol steps to frame the artwork, read excerpts from the interviews, and rally support.

Around 200 people gathered from Harrisburg, Lancaster, Philadelphia, and other communities to show support for the Shut Down Berks Coalition. They held signs asking Gov. Tom Wolf to issue an emergency order to shut down the facility permanently.

“We are not trying to reform a system that imprisons people, we are seeking an abolishment of ICE,” proclaims Sarafe Harris before singing with the crowd. (Dani Fresh for WHYY)

Nearing the end of the event, Harrisburg resident Sarafe Harris spoke before teaching the crowd a song.

“One of the things I do want to say is that we are not trying to reform a system that imprisons people, we are seeking an abolishment of ICE … we are not asking to reform, we are not asking to make Berks nicer, we are asking to shut down Berks,” she said.

Participants then walked from the Capitol building to the mural location in Allison Hill to dedicate it to the immigrant community living there.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal